MidSouth Con 2016

Time flies! So, in March we had the distinct honor of showing off Shogunate at MidSouth Con 2016 in Memphis, TN. What an amazing group of gamers!

Not only did I get to participate in two thoughtful and well-run panels, but we also were allowed to host a tournament and three demos of Shogunate. We had the game in the play-to-win section as well and one of our tournament players won the P2W copy!

The game was well received and we had a blast, even participating in three tournaments and two late nights of gaming ourselves.  5/5, would attend again! Below are just a few of the games we enjoyed with friends old and new!

Stonemaier Games Design Day 2015

Stonemaier Games Design Day 2015

Wow, what a weekend! Saturday we enjoyed what I have dubbed the most passionate day in gaming. It was a bit overwhelming actually.

Stonemaier Games graciously hosted a design day for budding game designers and game aficionados and it was EPIC.  Why? Well, even when you go to a con you are surrounded by fellow geeks – but these geeks were MY geeks.  To be in a room FILLED with people who love games like I love games is tremendous. Truly tremendous. I met so many folks who love the minutia of board games, who get excited about mechanics, who love ALL types of games. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the attendees were!

Design Day 2015

Design Day 2015

Playtesting

So I ran my game 21 times. 21! Twenty-one. In the first session (!) my last (knock-on-wood) balancing hurdle was solved, and by an off-handed remark.  The kind that makes you literally smack your head and exclaim, “Well, duh.”  Boom. Done.  I’ll get into the nitty gritty of how Shogunate faired at DD in my next post, but for now let’s talk about prototypes!

Shogunate on the table at Design Day 2015

Shogunate on the table at Design Day 2015

Prototypes

There were all manner of prototypes there. All with different themes, levels of art and craftsmanship. Collectively, DG played 6 prototypes and had a blast. A few of the games were nearly production ready and will be picked up by us as soon as they are released.  Some needed work, so we worked on them.  There was furious note taking, brainstorming, and theme rejiggering going on at nearly every session. All the hard work put into these games is a legendary feat. The level of creativity and generosity in the room was just breathtaking.

Feedback

Friends are great, but where playtesting really bears fruit is with a group of generous, like-minded strangers. The thoughtfulness and intuition displayed by the playtesters was AMAZING.  These weren’t “I don’t like it” or “it’s too slow” type commenters, oh no! What designers got were in-depth conversations on what SPECIFIC changes might make the game better, whole paragraphs of non-judgmental and truly helpful suggestions and advice.

Design Day 2015

Design Day 2015

 

Once again, thanks to Stonemaier Games for a truly worthwhile and enjoyable weekend. In one day we shaved a month off our design time for Shogunate. More than that, the day went smoothly, everything was communicated well, and the space was perfect.  The new friends and sound advice are the best part! Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this possible.  Well done!

 

 

 

 

What you can learn from Monopoly

“Wha? Monopoly? Eww, gross.” You’re saying… but wait! It’s true.  First I will say that you can learn something about game design from every game you play.  Personally, I learn more from games that I did not enjoy more so than ones I did.

Monopoly is the target of much vitriol in the designer games community, but why?

I think the backlash stems from what I call “Indy Kid Syndrome” a bit of the, “No, no. I like games you’ve never even heard of” type sentiment.  Below are a few reasons that I believe should grant a reprieve from your ire.

Foremost, the game was designed to be BAD. No, seriously. It was and education tool created by Elizabeth J. Phillips to explain the single tax theory of Henry George and sought to demonstrate that monopolies damage the economy and fewer business constraints for companies at the turn of the last century would make it bad for everyone.

On to the game itself: roll, move, buy property or don’t – which triggers an auction, next player does the same, pay “rent” for landing on the properties of other real estate moguls.  Did you catch the auction part?  Yep. There are auction mechanics in the game, seldom used but they are there. No one plays the game correctly.  Ever. I know I never have. The game is moderately complex for what it is.

There actually IS strategy. Capture monopolies, buy properties 7ish spaces apart, etc. True, the pure luck cards add nothing to the game, however they do act a bit like random bonuses (the most purple things!) in more complex euros if you think of the cash like VP. (There is no pile of money on “Free Parking”, that is simply a free space to land on – so that negates the “luck” from a common-non-rule-revered-as-fact.)

The point of the game is to bankrupt the other players with your clever strategy. Aside from paying rent, there is little player interaction. Players can’t actually lend other players money… only the bank can via a mortgage. So the banker has more interaction with other players but otherwise the only interaction is a “gotcha” mechanic. Current game design theory is to let players play the game. Learn from this in your game. If you are not a fan of monopoly, make sure you don’t have the equivalent “Go directly to Jail” and “Free Parking” in YOUR game.

Takeaways: So you don’t like Monopoly? Make a BETTER GAME!

If you aren’t a fan of roll, then move, ad nauseam– use a different movement mechanic in your game.

Salvage things like great tokens and clear auction mechanics and make them your own. Build and grow the pieces you do like and learn from the pieces you don’t.

Unless you’re creating a war based game, maybe avoid the “destroy all other players” goal.

Keep your game from meandering for countless hours. Like those last %*@& troops holed up in Australia, when the game is a foregone conclusion have rules for it to END, preferably before.

The next time someone says “Oh, like Monopoly?” when you say you play board games respond with “You know, not for a long time.  But if you like Monopoly, let me show you [insert game here].”

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Level 1 Characters Are Crazy, Or Fortune Favors The Stupid

A brand new character sheet, is there anything better?  So much potential, adventures yet to be had, evil yet to be slain, a veritable blank slate.  A thing like that really goes to player’s heads.  With all those hopes and dreams freshly dreamt it’s easy to forget that right now you are a plebeian. This is a story about one of those times.

We have been walking FOR.EVE.ER. I need a break.  Those random wolves were pretty vicious and I want a nappy-nap.  I do look pretty fierce though, sun shining off my scales and shit.  Yup, I’m a pimp.  Seriously, this walking.  It’s time for a beer break at least.

Ooh, look – is that a town?  Crap, is that a town WITH SMOKE BILLOWING FROM IT?  Damn it! I bet all the beer is gone.  I bet it’s brigands.  Effing beer-hating brigands. Anyone who wastes beer is evil as hell, these punks are going down.

“You guys see that? I bet it’s brigands.” I say, in a deep rumble like the glorious copper Dragonborn Barbarian that I am.

“I HATE brigands!” says Abesentia, the bronze dragonborn rogue.

“WE KNOW!” chime Gesh and Arum, the gold dragonborn warlock.

A shadow passes overhead, COMPLETELY unperceived.

We hustle toward the smoke engulfed village. Looks like the damn dirty scoundrels are attacking the South gate. Not a one of us wonders why the interior village is on fire if the brigands are out here.

ATTAAAAAAAAACk! Bam, pow, thwack! Dead. Awesome. We are SO awesome.  We are the BEST adventurers ever.

Knock, knock, dear town we saved.  What’s up?

“Oh bless you!” the gate keeper opens the gate and ushers us in.  The mayor greets us, scared, with big eyes.  “Are you here to help?” he asks.  “We just did,” says Arum.  “They were just dividing our defenses, look!” as he points to the sky to the North.

We climb the stairs to the top of the wall.  Well crap.  A freaking legion of brigands, and what is that?  Is that… no.  IS THAT A DRAGON?  A freaking blue dragon.  Flying plain as you please over the brigands and casually attacking the wall on the way by.  Yay? Surely this can’t go wrong.

“He’s making another pass” says random yabo on the wall.  We can’t reach the brigands on the ground but the dragon, he’s making passes within range.  One round, then another of plink, plink with arcane blasts, javelins, hand axes.  Turns out dragon scales are hard.  Like, legit hard.

Ok, third pass.  “Hey, Abesentia…” as I gesture toward the dragon.  Her eyes light up.  Blue dragons are the brigands of the dragon world you see.  Awesome.  She holds her action till she can sidle up beside me.  I easily heft her to waist height, her tucked into a compact form, grabbing her knees. Then like a herculean Olympiad, I move back to give myself a few steps of room to follow through and “ungh!” I fling my new adventure mate at an adult blue dragon with critical accuracy.  She lands on its back between the wings and proceeds to chip and pry at a single scale the size or her torso.  A few more passes and a few more plinks and success! She get the scale in her grip and rips it from the dragons flesh, like the world’s largest hangnail. The exposed patch of skin is skewered relentlessly with all the blades Abesentia can produce.

Arum and I can’t tell if the dragon gives a good Bahamut’s  damn about us, but it does seem to be pretty perturbed by Abesentia.  Its loops are getting more erratic and it looks like it’s gearing up for a barrel roll.  Oh crap.  They are so high up!

I have one javelin left.  What am I going to do…  ok here’s a chain for hefting things up to the wall.  Ok.  Affix the chain to the javelin and (don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss, don’t miss) YES!  I AM A GOD! The javelin and chain land a few feet below Abesentia.  She clutches her scale prize tightly to her chest with one arm and steadies herself with the other.  She slides down the dragon’s side to the javelin.  As the dragon banks to head back North, the javelin dislodges with Abesentia attached.  This was a bad plan.  Well, there is more chain than there is height from the ground.  Uh… uh.  Ok, I jump off the wall backwards, tightly gripping the chain.  I land hard and hear a squishy thud on the other side of the wall.  Oh no. No.  I killed my new adventure mate.  I just know it.

The dragon retreats.  DAMN RIGHT!  Hahahaha. We are the BEST. As the dragon disengages the brigands run like little bitches.  They are far enough from the base of the wall that I can go collect what I expect to be the gibbs of Abesentia.  (What did I DO?!)

Wait, Waaaaaaaaaaait.  She’s just unconscious!  Amazeballs!  Ok, a healer.  I need to get her inside to a healer.  Right, the scale. I grab it too and hurry her inside the wall.  Some hippy-dippy lady that smells vaguely of cumblecake keeps watch over her.

We sleep.  Dear gods, we sleep.

When we wake the Mayor is all smiles and thanks.  The village folk are grateful and welcoming.  But what of Abesentia?

The door to the hovel she’d been recuperating in busts open and a dragonborn steps out looking like a badass goddess, dirty and bruised, but stunning non-the-less.  The best part?  She’s adorned with a new blue scale mask.  I guess she woke up before we did. Women are crafty like that.

We are so awesome we need a name.  What should we call ourselves?  Haha,  “Scales of Glory” bitches.  That’s right.  (as everyone hums blaze of glory, because holy shit we shouldn’t have survived that.)

Now where in the hell is my beer?

Bluffing Mechanics: Your Friends ARE the game

Coup, The Resistance, Sheriff of Nottingham, Spyfall, Two Rooms and a Boom, and to some extent, Love Letter… bluffing games are where it’s at!

I’m so delighted to see a new crop of bluffing games released in the past year or so. They are the peak of collaborative play for game night.  The flavor of the game doesn’t even really matter because the people you are playing with ARE the game.

Bluffing games bring out the qualities in your friends that you rarely get to see.  Their reactions and responses are the heart of the enjoyment of these games.

We were playing the first round of Spyfall a week or so ago at our FLGS with folks we knew well.  When it got to the spy’s turn to be asked a question, flabbergasted and red as a beet he didn’t even let the other player finish the question, he covered his face with one hand and pushed his card to the center of the table with the other – begging us to relieve him of this heavy burden: “I can’t take this!  I’m the spy!” he cried.  The table erupted in laughter.  “I’m an accountant, I can’t lie!” he proclaimed.  Again, much laughter.  We played another location and three after that and he STILL enjoyed the game, and so did the rest of us.  Comedy gold! GOLD!

Spyfall

Sheriff of Nottingham has a bit more structure to the bullshitting, but is no less enjoyable and for the same reasons. The inanity of calling your friend out on his three chickens (THIS silk doesn’t look like a chicken to ME!) makes for a raucous table dynamic that is hard to beat.  SoN even prolongs the fun with three rounds of subterfuge; everyone gets three turns to be master of table (sheriff) and try their hand at sniffing out the dirty, dirty lies.

I play with a diverse group of people, some are good at lying and some are really, really not. That’s ok, because they all use that to their advantage to “double deceive” so that they get called on lying when they are actually being truthful. This is a powerful tool, one that just about all games can relate to (Netrunner anyone?).

I’ve seen some pretty harsh criticisms of the games I call out above.  Granted, no one’s opinion can be inherently wrong, but I do beseech those vehemently against bluffing games to try them again and with new folks. Maybe these games aren’t for everyone, or maybe they just aren’t for the people they’ve had the (dis)pleasure of playing them with.

So there you have it. I like bluffing games because my friends are AWESOME.

~Adrienne “Penny” Ezell

Writers Note: Adrienne, nor Dreadful Games, receive any compensation for any blog content. (I just actually like these games, fancy that!)

Inclusivity: Making Everyone Feel Welcome In Your Board Game

I’m going to take a short break today from talking about printing to talk about inclusivity.  What do I mean?  More than just including everyone, it means that every single person that plays your game is not only welcome, but feels at home.  That is not as gargantuan a task as it seems at first. Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean.

Let’s dive in to gender.

Written words

The rules for Ventures in the Void uses “they/their” rather than the gender specific “he/she” – “his/her.”  To avoid repetitiveness I also employ “player/opponent.”   This is something that is relatively new to the writing world and technically incorrect when looking at APA/MLA writing styles.  My formal education is in Journalism and Communication so it took some getting used to.  The fact is, not everyone identifies as male or female. I do not, and never have, meant anyone any offense by my use of pronouns, so it is incredibly easy for me to make the shift to non-gender specific pronouns instead.

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When sending out rules for friends, family, and industry types to proof and generally peruse, I outright tell them that my intent in regards to pronoun usage and themes, idioms, phrasing, etc. is to be inclusive of everyone. Not only does that keep my more literary editors from marking every generic pronoun, it also leaves them free to point out any other issues they see as roadblocks to inclusivity in the writing. Everyone has a different frame of reference and thus everyone has the potential to be supremely helpful when looking for these issues.

Depictions / Art

Characters

My current “front burner” project is Ventures in the Void which will only have any humanoid characters if a stretch goal is met. Mechanics-wise they will just be a bonus once per game so won’t be necessary.  Some of my other games, however, are entirely based on the persona a player chooses to represent them.  Legendary Tales is a story telling game when you play a hero.  Since I’ll have my players taking on personas that I portray with art and express as specific genders I feel it is my obligation to at the very least have a male and female version of each hero.  Like I said, the very LEAST… I am currently contemplating how to thematically include non-gendered heroes as well.

Art

Unless we’re talking about a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic game based in humor, I think the days of mostly naked, ridiculously top-heavy, female characters is done.  There IS a time and place, but around an inclusive gaming table is NOT it.  That said, the male characters don’t all have to be brawny and intellectually challenged or wiring and geniuses either.  In general, I stay away from stereotypes.  They are just bad business.  Why take the chance of offending a potential player with your art, when really it was just laziness or a lack of creativity.  I KNOW coming up with 200 cards or pages and pages of art is challenging.  Again, this is one of those times I let my artist know up front that my intent is to be inclusive of everyone.  I want all genders, skin tones, body types, etc. expressed in my games if there are many opportunities for art.  If there are just a few (like say a 5-6 hero game) then at the very least I want mid-range body types, both genders (and one un-gendered character if I can work it in) and a variety of skin tones.

Language

Idioms and Slang

Chances are, if there is a slang word for a profession or nationality then it is derogatory.  Unless you actually mean “Hey, [insert profession/nationality], F You!” look it up first to be sure.  Watch using “female” as well.  Why? “Look at that group of males over there.” Sounds off, doesn’t it?  So don’t use “female” that way either.

By now, most of us have heard the story behind “rule of thumb,” just don’t use it. Lots of other idiomatic expressions are just as awful.  “Gyp/Jip/Jyp” is actually a derogatory term for Romani or Gypsies, just don’t use it. When in doubt, look it up.

[Bonus food-for-thought: When playing games – THINK about what you say.  Maybe you wiped the board with someone. You’re celebrating, you’re happy – so why bring rape into it?  Is rape funny?  You probably just answered “no.” So, why would you repeatedly chide another player by shouting about how you “raped them so hard?” See, now that you are thinking about it – you wouldn’t.  Let’s keep that away from the gaming table, shall we?]

Themes

Research

The biggest tip for keeping your themes clean of unintended slights is to research.  Historical themes are the exception that proves the rule I think.  Some parts of history are just ugly.  I am not currently working on any history heavy games – but I think sugarcoating actual events is a whole different matter. These games take a lot of research – just be sure to get your facts correct.

For the rest of us with non-historical games. Research, research, research.  Naming fantasy continents?  Look up the name you chose to see if it has a meaning already.  Same with ships, tribes, civilizations – anything you are getting creative with.

Welcome

Maybe I should have put this at the beginning, because if you’ve made it this far you obviously want to enlighten yourself on this subject.  So here it is: Inclusivity is NOT about people being OVERLY sensitive. It’s about showing respect to everyone and saying what you really mean. (ok, I DID go back and add that bit to the top!) I’ll admit that I’m educated and I surround myself with like-minded people.  We tend to speak tactlessly to one another because we take for granted that the person hearing us speak knows what we mean.  In reality, this is NOT a good thing. When bits of our vernacular are pointed out as “wrong” we tend to get defensive because we didn’t MEAN to offend anyone.  It’s HARD not to get defensive. At least for me, the reason I get defensive is that I truly didn’t mean to offend and I feel like I am being told I’m a horrible person because I did offend someone, or could have offended someone.  *Sigh* So the way I am proceeding with the distinct possibility that my words and art will be in print and distributed all over the globe (I hope!) is to educate myself and say/write/depict what I really mean.  Plainly: Everyone is welcome to play my game and I strive to only produce games that make them feel that way.

 

What did I miss?  What do you do to ensure your game is welcoming to all?

Who is a Gamer?

There has been a lot of talk lately, and always really, about what “gamer” encompasses and who should be called a “gamer”.   A “real” gamer is easy to identify, they love games. Period.  They may not love the games I love, but they are still a gamer. They may not love the games I love the way that I love them, but they are still a gamer. They may not love games on the same platform that I love them on, but they are still a gamer. They may not be from the same state, country, have the same gender identity, same orientation, socio-economic background, or speak the same language as me, but they are still a gamer.

A world filled with hate is still a world full of love too. Love > Hate.  Let’s not spend another minute dissecting “gamer”, and just game. Just love. Love the things you love. Love unabashedly. Spread the love. Seek out others who love the same things.

Celebrate your community.  When you meet someone who loves a game or genre outside your realm of knowledge, don’t disparage them– they are saying “Hey, we are the same. We are gamers. I want to be a part of this community.” Welcome them. The ios indie developer you overlook and classify as “not a REAL gamer” is making a version of your favorite table top game. The girl at your last meetup you called “not a REAL gamer” has an epic MtG elf deck that can cream any you can put together. Yes, welcome them with open arms. Look around; these are your people. You are HOME.

 

“We come from all around the world to find people that love the things we love the way that we love them.” Wil Wheaton

 

In the video below, a new mother asked Wil Wheaton to tell her daughter why it’s OK and even awesome to be a nerd.  She recorded this video to show her daughter when she’s old enough to understand.  It’s worth a watch.  Love > Hate